Op-ed: Saving neighborhood stores on Cyber Monday
On Cyber Monday, guest columnist Maria Semple is asking you to join her in resisting the impulse to do your Christmas shopping in a flurry of clicks.
Special to The Seattle Times
A YEAR ago, during the month of November, my Amazon.com account reveals I bought a lemon zester, UGGs, Wonder Woman DVDs, a rash guard, eucalyptus oil, a nose-hair trimmer, three copies of Chuck Klosterman’s novel “The Visible Man,” a felt elf hat, lithium batteries, Montblanc pen refills, a dog-bathing Barbie, loose tea, a magnetic stud finder and fleece sheets.
Meanwhile, I was driving around Seattle. The toy store in Wallingford? Out of business. The purse shop on Fifth Avenue? Gone. The book store on Capitol Hill? Empty. The wine store in Belltown? No longer. The essential-oil place in the U District? Inessential.
With each shuttered store came the anguished howl, Oh, no, I loved that place! chased by the gulp of realization, I should have shopped there more.
The awful truth? What they had once sold I was buying on Amazon. But who could blame me? It was so quick! It was so easy! The money saved! The precious writing time reclaimed!
Despite my selfish and lazy tendencies, I felt compelled to address my part in the rash of for-lease signs.
On Jan. 1, 2012, I resolved to not buy anything from Amazon for a year. A friend who had seen the avalanche of smiling Amazon boxes in my apartment suggested I turn my year without Amazon into a memoir. (This friend writes memoirs. Who knew it took so little to trigger a memoir?)
I quickly realized that shopping on Amazon had made the idea of parking my car and going into a store feel like an outrageous imposition on my time and good nature. Amazon had gotten me out of the habit of going to bookstores, to shoe stores, to toy stores. So I simply got back in the habit. Guess what? My life didn’t change one bit.
Sure, I’d rather click my mouse than drive downtown and find a parking space. (If you don’t believe I feel pain on this one, please refer to the entire novel I wrote on the topic.)
And yes, I paid more for what I bought. But I also saved a ton on impulse purchases. No more signing for a package, baffled as to what it might contain, only to open it and cry out, “Dear God, why?” when I beheld the Lucite Post-it note dispenser.
Today is Cyber Monday, the day after the Thanksgiving weekend when all good workers hope their bosses don’t catch them buying presents online. I’m asking you to join me in resisting the impulse to do your Christmas shopping in a flurry of clicks. Instead, figure out a way to get to your favorite little shops, ones that would deal you a body blow were you to discover they’ve vanished.
I won’t pretend it won’t be a pain. But I’m appealing to your aesthetics. This is Seattle. We’re supposed to have superior taste. Our motto can’t be “convenience über alles.” Some things in life take work. You can get sex from a hooker, but who prefers it?
We need to preserve our neighborhoods, our small business, our local economy. Isn’t having a toy store in Ballard worth circling the block for a parking space and paying $4 more for a board game? Isn’t having friends who own thriving small businesses worth going to a store — even if they don’t have your size but they can order it and have it shipped to your house? Do you want to wake up one day and see Queen Anne looking like Aurora?
If you make it through the holiday season without a hitch, try it for a year. You’ll be surprised at how little difference it makes in your life. If I’m wrong and you do end up broke and insane? You can apparently get a memoir out of it.
Maria Semple is the author of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel." She lives in Seattle.